Finding scalable lithium-ion battery recycling processes is important as gigawatt hours of batteries are deployed in electric vehicles. Governing bodies have taken notice and have begun to enact recycling targets. While several battery recycling processes exist, the greenhouse gas emissions impacts and economic prospects of these processes differ, and could vary by specific battery chemistry.
Here we use an attributional life-cycle analysis, and process-based cost models, to examine the greenhouse gas emissions, energy inputs and costs associated with producing and recycling lithium-ion cells with three common cathode chemistries: lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC-622), lithium nickel cobalt aluminium oxide and lithium iron phosphate.
We compare three recycling processes: pyrometallurgical and hydrometallurgical recycling processes, which reduce cells to elemental products, and direct cathode recycling, which recovers and reconditions ceramic powder cathode material for use in subsequent batteries—retaining a substantial fraction of the energy embodied in the material from their primal manufacturing process.
While pyrometallurgical and hydrometallurgical processes do not significantly reduce life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, direct cathode recycling has the potential to reduce emissions and be economically competitive. Recycling policies should incentivize battery collection and emissions reductions through energetically efficient recycling processes.